“Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.”[i] Why? Why did Jesus pray through the night? It seems that in the morning Jesus had the clarity whom to call to be his 12 apostles. But why didn’t he just know that without praying? Why so many times in the Gospels do we read of Jesus’ setting off to pray to God whom he called “Father”?
In the Gospels, we read Jesus prays:
- at his baptism[ii];
- when he withdraws from the crowds[iii];
- after healing people[iv];
- when he is transfigured with God’s light while on the mountaintop[v];
- before walking on water[vi];
- after he learns of John the Baptist’s death[vii];
- before he brings his dead friend, Lazarus, back to life[viii];
- for his apostle, Peter, in the early days and at the end[ix].
We are told Jesus prays about food:
- at meals[x];
- before the miraculous feedings of the multitudes[xi];
- before and after his “last supper” when he meets with his disciples[xii];
At the end of Jesus’ life, he prays:
- three times in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion[xiii];
- from the cross his agony and then his surrender[xiv];
- after his resurrection when he breaks bread for his friends at Emmaus[xv].
His disciples presumed they, too, should pray, but how? Jesus teaches them what we call “the Lord’s Prayer,”[xvi]which covers topics from heaven to earth, and about which we could presume our heavenly Father is already well informed.[xvii] Why does Jesus pray so much? And what about us, our own prayer?
- There is no denying that prayer is a mystery, not a mysterious ploy, but a mysterious truth. In prayer, something is going on in us that God has initiated, enveloping us into the heart of God. Our prayer is always a response to God.
- The fact that God already knows what we need before we ask is beside the point, according to Jesus.[xviii] Pray your heart out.
- Something will come of our prayer. The scriptures record numerous occasions where, because of prayer, God changes course, and something different happens. But there is no formula for how, or when, or if this happens.
- More often it is we who will change because of our prayer. It is as if the entry point for our prayer is not where we will end up, and God well knows this.[xix]
- Jesus calls us “friends.” Friends – especially close friends – want to know what’s really going on in us.
But then there are those moments when our prayer has run out, where the living water has dried up, when we are overwhelmed, or full of despair, or angry, or ashamed, or afraid… and we feel we cannot pray. And that is our prayer. That prayer may be a mess, as much of a mess as a young child who is crying, or screaming, or hungry, or lost. We are children of God. And God loves children.
[i] Luke 6:12.
[ii] Luke 3:21.
[iii] Luke 5:16.
[iv] Mark 1:35.
[v] Luke 9:29.
[vi] Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46; John 6:15.
[vii] Matthew 14:13-14.
[viii] John 11:41-42.
[ix] Luke 9:18, 22:32.
[x] Luke 24:30.
[xi] Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14.
[xii] Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20.
[xiii] Matthew 26:36-56; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1.
[xiv] Luke 23:34, 46; Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34.
[xv] Luke 24:30.
[xvi] Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4.
[xvii] Luke 11:1.
[xviii] Matthew 6:8.
[xix] Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the Danish philosopher and theologian, left us with a prayer: “O Thou who are unchangeable, whom nothing changes! Thou who art unchangeable in love, precisely for our welfare not submitting to any change: may we too will our welfare, submitting ourselves to the discipline of Thy unchangeableness, so that we may in unconditional obedience find our rest and remain at rest in Thy unchangeableness. Not art Thou like us; if we are to preserve only some degree of constancy, we must not permit ourselves too much to be moved, nor by too many things. Thou on the contrary art moved, and moved in infinite love, by all things. Even that which we human beings call an insignificant trifle, and pass by unmoved, the need of a sparrow, even this moves Thee; and what we so often scarcely notice, a human sigh, this moves Thee, O Infinite Love! But nothing changes Thee, O Thou who art unchangeable! O Thou who in infinite love dost submit to be moved, may this our prayer also move Thee to add Thy blessing in order that there may be wrought such a change in the one who prays as to bring them into conformity with Thy unchangeable will, Thou who are unchangeable.”
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.